New Clause 6 — Power to make control orders

Part of Orders of the Day — Prevention of Terrorism Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:15 pm on 28th February 2005.

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee 11:15 pm, 28th February 2005

In the 12 years or so that I have been in the House, the number of days on which what happens in the House of Commons Chamber seems to matter have each year declined dramatically, so it was fun to be here today and last Wednesday, when one got the sense that an actual debate was taking place.

It is interesting to consider how today's and last week's debates will look in two or three years. What conclusions will we draw? I suggest that we will draw a number of conclusions. One will be that some of the complaints were overstated. Our ability to restrict the liberties of citizens and to detain people without trial will be considerably less than that of France, Spain or other countries similar to ours, whatever the outcome of the Bill. That has sometimes been lost sight of in the debate on the current legislation.

Secondly, we may recognise that, in our society, there are many circumstances in which people's liberty is restricted without their appearing before a judge for quite some period—I am thinking of the Mental Health Act 1983 as well as of police powers. So let us put the matter in perspective. Some of the discussion today, which has focused so much on judges, has taken us away from the more fundamental debate, which appeared only from time to time: whether it is right at all to have the sort of restrictions on freedom and liberty that are implied by control orders. I believe that that is necessary and that the terrorist threat justifies it. It is a shame that the inability to resolve the issue about judges has stopped that being the central focus of today's debate because, for a lot of people in the Conservative party and for some Labour Members, that is an even more fundamental issue.

Thirdly, I am sure that the Bill will be amended in another place and we will revisit it. Clearly, it is not capable of giving us the structure that we need to deal with these terrorist issues for the future. We must ensure that, over the next two or three years, that structure is put in place. If I am right in thinking that there is a group of individuals against whom we cannot put together a court case for a criminal hearing and we have to take action, the real challenge is that neither the process of the Home Secretary looking at the evidence nor a judge having it presented to him or her will prove to be adequate. Where the security services produce evidence against an individual, it is important to interrogate that evidence as effectively as possible, to consider not just a control order but the other strategies that could be used against that individual, and to weigh the overall national security risk.

I believe that that role can be performed only if there is a procedure that takes on board some of the elements of the investigating magistrate that one has in other jurisdictions. Judges will be able to consider whether a control order should apply. It is much more difficult for them, in any of the proposed procedures, to consider that option against the other options and strategies that could be considered for dealing with that individual. I tabled amendments, which we did not reach, to expand the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, not simply so that there was a public certification of the inability to prosecute; it was with a conscious eye on the need to develop some investigative capacity within the state, perhaps with a judicial role, to carry out the type of investigation that is necessary. I am absolutely convinced that that is the direction that we need to explore and move in over the next couple of years. We will make what progress we can on this Bill and get it into the best possible form, but I doubt that we will achieve that by Tuesday.